Theories and research

Research Question

How do current theories and approaches of urban agriculture within architectural discourse relate to patterns of land use within 21st Century cities within the developed north?

This study attempts to explore if the application of the concept within contemporary Architecture/design that can relate more deeply to the present and often contradictory physical and cultural and context of the 21st century city.

Theories surrounding land use in developed world cities will be used as a theoretical context for analysing culture against architecturally led theories and models of Urban agriculture, with Edinburgh forming the basis for design based spatial analysis and design speculation.[1]

Arguably the UK is currently one of the most topical contexts in Europe in relation to the argument of localising food production within cities. The UK imports much of its food,[2] with the average UK distance for imports further increasing.

Furthermore, although the host city Edinburgh is celebrated for its retained historic core and by some polls as “the greenest UK city[3]”, since the late 20th Century similarly to many European cities, in relation to land use it has followed the trend of decentralisation with elements of urban sprawl engulfing its hinterland facilitated by transport infrastructure, and contrastingly according to the WWF Edinburgh has the highest ecological footprint than any city in Scotland.[4]  Speculative architectural proposals will aim to emerge and be informed by these contemporary phenomena.

In 2010 proposals for ‘Edinburgh’s Garden Quarter’ were proposed, a ‘new urbanism’[5] inspired large scale residential and mixed use masterplan on Greenfield land on the western fringe of the city.[6] Both the name and concept are deeply reminiscent of Ebenezer Howard’s ‘Garden Cities of tomorrow (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – EdinburghGarden Quarter ’

Amidst the economic and physical stagnation of large scale inner city developments such as the Forth ports development and the Caltongate masterplan, Edinburgh’s Garden District aims to provide an alternative ‘green’ and self-sufficient life for commuters, incorporating designer greenhouses and allotments. The analysis will reflect on the motivations and position of this development in the context of dominant theories of urban agriculture in architecture.

The Proposed study will take 3 parts

  1. Analysis of the emergence, motivations and characteristics of dominant models of urban agriculture in architectural discourse
  2. Analyse characteristics of dominant models and theories in relation to patterns of land use within the developed ‘north’. (using graphical, written and design based analysis).
  3. Develop 3 design responses to different aspects of land use in Edinburgh using

Develop 3 design responses to different aspects of land use in Edinburgh using 

Critical Framework for research 

A critical framework was developed from literature review of differing theories within the subject area to respond to research aims (figure 5). This summarises how each section of the investigation of literature and current characteristics and applied design based research to land use interrelates. Design was chosen as a complimentary method of analysis alongside the literature review involving graphical analysis, typological analysis, spatial analysis and speculative feasibility studies. This will be used in parallel to analysis of literature and theory.


Aims of research

Figure 5 –Aims of research

Analysis of subject area:
1.What has motivated the emergence of the concept in architecture – have these motivations shifted over last 100years?

The will be attempted by charting patterns of emergence and re-emergence with key world events and movements to determine how the patterns and motivations for emergence of this architectural concept have shifted.

2. What are the current dominant paradigms  of Urban Agriculture in Architecture, what are their characteristics?
To attempt a qualititive Analysis of each categorised group against a scale

involving nine criteria to allow analysis of the characteristics and motivations of each and the implications of each in relation to the 21st century city in the developed ‘North’.

Specific Focus

3. How do dominant theories relate to land use in the contemporary city of the developed north the (2 aspects of Land use from lit review: Patterns of land use in the ‘decentralised city’, and public spaces in the Neo-liberal city.

4. How can urban agriculture intervene within current land use patterns? using Edinburgh as a focus. A quantative spatial analysis of each categorised current architectural paradigm,(See figure 4 which shows the 9 identified) to chart the implications of each in relation to the city of Edinburgh. This will involved current Theories tested against current

This study will aim to focus at a strategic level of enquiry, and acknowledges that further multidisciplinary research is required into the implications of Urban Agriculture for land use involving how such proposals could be technically and socially implemented within communities. Figures 4 and 5 indicate the aims and methodology of this study. This study will also aim to make reference throughout and direct the reader to parallel research/studies which investigate other facets of the subject area fundamental in addressing further research.

[1] This is not only to facilitate access to information given the author’s present location, but to focus the scale of this study within a large subject area, with many variables across the developed North.

[2] Examples including 80% fruit and vegetables,

[4] Butcher J. Investigating The Potential For The Expansion Of Urban Agriculture In The City Of Edinburgh,  Ecology (conservation and management) dissertation, University of Edinburgh, P16 PP1

[5] – last accessed 15/02/2011


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